Wil McCarthy, Member SFWA
A Novel Proposal
(Author's note: this book, a sequel to my novelette "Amerikano Hiaika," had been in the planning stages for nearly six years, when it was torpedoed by a strong, unfortunate resemblance to the movie FALLEN, which came out just as I was finishing this proposal. Stuff like that happens from time to time. The only good news was that the movie stunk, and I hadn't actually wasted any time writing the book. However, certain concepts in the story -- especially "skip" -- will be dug out and reused eventually. This document is provided for entertainment, information, and educational purposes only. Permission to copy, modify, raid, or otherwise exploit it is expressly denied. Thanks.)
New Orleans has never been a bastion of law, order, rationality or equality of wealth, and in 2030 we find glitzier technology separating the haves from the have-nots, and the Cajun/Quebequois "Acadia Nouvelle" movement using street terrorism to further its goal of an authentic French Quarter in which the use of "foreign" tongues is severely punished. But really, things haven't changed all that much; the city remains an intricate clash of cultures, trapped in its own little eddy of time.
However, nanotech-based devices capable of synthesizing complex organic molecules in bulk are both common and cheap, and the so-called War on Drugs, while never formally ended, has been abandoned as hopeless for decades. While technically illegal, highly sophisticated designer drugs enjoy considerable tolerance at all levels of society.
One such drug, popular among the indigent and idle poor, is "seepee," a memory/personality overlay suite which enables the user to "become someone else" for a few days -- sort of the neurochemical equivalent of a learning vacation. All well and fine in principle, but the RNA extraction process which produces seepee is, unfortunately, fatal to the subject whose personality is thus encoded. Overlays therefore come in four major classes: unwilling victims, depressive suicides, compulsive exhibitionists who will literally give up their lives for attention, and fanatics who see the drug as a tool for promulgating their strange ideas or behaviors. The odds of getting a positive growth experience out of the overlay are therefore pretty slim, but as with Lotto, among the destitute such meager hopes are often the only hopes there are.
A growing middle-class vice is "skip," a memory blocker which effectively enables short, one-way hops to twelve hours into the future. Still another rampant fad is "andromalin," a much more sinister chemical which suppresses higher brain functions, temporarily reducing its users to a mute, hungry animal state in which concepts of propriety, morality, and reason do not apply.
Even without the quite severe repercussions of andromalin, violent crime in New Orleans remains a major problem in 2030, so that the government has taken to treating repeat offenders both chemically and neurosurgically, resulting in sharply reduced recidivism and a great many moral ambiguities. But the phenomenon of Evil, long derided and ignored by Establishment psychologists, is slowly making a comeback in official policy; some offenders simply can't be cured of the impulse to harm and dominate others. So capital punishment has made a comeback as well, in the form of Neural Simplification or "simping," which destroy's the criminal's mind but leaves the body intact, to be teleoperated by the severely and incurably handicapped.
Mosh Gribblin - "The Most Feared Man in America," Mosh was an intelligent caucasian male in his early thirties, of an ancestry that included both Cajun and Quebecois. As a younger man he spent some time in Acadia Nouvelle organizations, marching and protesting and of course helping to drive Anglos and other undesirables out of French neighborhoods. His penchant for violence often exceeded the neighborhoods' informal rules of engagement, though, and when one too many of Mosh's enemies was found artfully dismembered, the Acadians began distancing themselves from him. Freed of his never-too-strongly-felt political entanglements, Mosh gradually evolved a penchant for kidnapping men and women and "breadboarding" them, i.e., spreading their internal organs out on pegboards in circuit-like geometric patterns. The idea was to "push the envelope" as hard as possible, creating ever larger and more intricate designs before the victims finally expired. This was, of course, unimaginably cruel, and he could no longer explain the behavior away as politcal radicalism. He had to face up to it: he was simply an evil, evil person. But Mosh's wiring was such that he remained engaging -- almost likable -- in spite of it. He was also mildly schizophrenic, given to auditory hallucinations, but while the voices most schizophrenics hear are threatening or demeaning, Mosh's voices, always in French, chanted messages of endless praise and encouragement. "You're the best, Mosh. Go for it! We love you, man."
Fortunately, Mosh was caught and convicted for his crimes, partly with the help of Acadia Nouvelle radicals, and while he was never executed, he spent two years on Simp Row before dying from an unknown ailment. Drug of Choice: Dreamplify (a REM-state enhancer).
Aubrey Weyland - An FBI lab technician turned field agent, "Aub" is the closest thing the world has to an expert on pathological seepee outbreaks. When someone with an axe to grind goes "seepee up," the result can be dozens or hundreds of overlaid addicts running around grinding the axe for them, which can hurl a city into major failures of logistics and public safety (c.f. "Americano Hiaika," Aboriginal SF, May/June 1991 and Interzone, May '91 -- a dead American policeman solving his own murder in a Tokyo slum). Impulse control issues are fortunately biochemical in basis, so if the seepee's subject is of a violent or criminal bent, these tendencies aren't strongly carried to the overlay hosts. However, genuine Evil appears to be solely a construction of personal choice and experience, with no identifiable chemical basis. Aub knows only too well that if one of the world's Truly Bad people should choose to seepee up, his or her overlay hosts could rampage through their city like a biblical plague. Fortunately, this has never actually happened. Drugs of Choice: Ditty-Wop (flavored, lightly narcotic antacid tablets) and nicotine patches.
Kaema LeClerc - The New Orleans detective responsible for Mosh Gribblin's original arrest, Kae is a black Catholic woman with ties to the vodoun religion. She has a carpenter husband named Ted, a five-year-old son named Theodore, and a fondness for long-distance jogging in nanotech-based "Sanger Fog Shoes." Though an atheist, Kaema is sensitive to -- and intrigued by -- religious nuance, and her trapping of Gribblin relied heavily on the symbolic nature of his actions. Far from being an off-the-rack "profiler" type character, though, she is the daughter of a cop family, brought up tough but turned oddly idealistic in adulthood. Believing that juveniles, unlike adults, can in fact be rehabilitated, she has often toyed with the idea of going to law school and becoming a juvenile public defender. This idea is wholly repellant to her family, though, and she may, in the end, settle for being a prosecutor and maybe eventually a judge. Drug of Choice: Spirit World (a "gnostic" hallucinogen).
"Xerox" Zeke Duchamp, a.k.a "Rainbow" - A small-time industrialist turned city councilman, "Xerox" Zeke Duchamp -- so named for his piebald complexion and strong resemblance to his father -- has been knocked down a few rungs on the social ladder after falling into the trap of "skip" addiction; he must ingest the drug twice daily or lose his past three years' accumulated memories. Now a hospital orderly and sometime paid police informant, he wears a wristwatch on each arm, so that if one battery goes dead the alarm on the other will still remind him to take his meds on time. The growing problem of skip addiction afflicts people at all levels of society, and being trapped on an extended "lost weekend" of unknown duration, its sufferers tend to feel a sense of disconnection from the real world and a loose affiliation with one another. This, coupled with his former status and continued charm, allows Zeke sporadic access to an unusual range of goods, services, and information.
There are two methods for deducing the composition of a substance without touching or approaching it: the "emission spectrum," characteristic wavelengths of light given off when the substance is heated or burned, and the "absorption spectrum," bands of darkness where light is absorbed while passing through the substance. Using this as a metaphor, and inspired by the dilemma of his skip addiction, Xerox Zeke has rechristened himself as "Rainbow," and has embarked on a journey of self-discovery in which he selectively inhibits a different small region of his brain each day, to help identify and know intimately all the "little programs" that comprise him. He continues to work, and does all his own cooking, cleaning, shopping, and other maintenance activities, the better to experience and understand the range of symptoms he undergoes (e.g., aphasia, agnosia, ataxia, dyslexia, motion blindness, etc., etc.). He understands that in a randomly impaired state he runs a greater risk of missing a dose of skip and so losing both his memories and his newly expanded sense of self, but he finds the sense of discovery to be worth the risk. He knows that his old self, his pre-addiction self, would never contemplate a journey like this one, and if his current self must evaporate (as will certainly happen sooner or later), he wants at least to fully experience that self before it goes. Drug of Choice: custom neural supressants.
Thread One: Mosh Gribblin's Story
Angry at having been caught and convicted just as he was "starting to fully comprehend" his art, Mosh conceives a diabolical "jailbreak" plan and, with the aid of a bribed and threatened prison doctor, has his personality and memories encoded into a Chemical Personality Overlay, or C.P.O., narcotic. The extraction process is fatal to him -- not a problem since he's going to be "simped" anyway -- and after his death on Halloween night, some hundred and eighty doses of the drug are smuggled out and sold on the street as recreational "seepee."
The story opens with Mosh "awakening" in a new body, that of occasionally homeless drug addict Mickey Balfour. Mosh is slightly racist, and to his distaste, he finds that his new body is black. He retains all of Balfour's memories and most of his own, and understands gradually that his personality, his sense of self, has strong overtones of blackness and Balfourness in it as well, which can be suppressed with effort but which, when Mosh's attention wanders, reassert themselves not so much like a second personality as a collection of bad habits. More deeply troubling is the slow realization that Mosh's entourage of encouraging (albeit imaginary) voices, being manifestations of physical damage to his original brain, have not been incorporated into the overlay. How will he get by without his voices? Too, the voices were always an important part of his sense of connection to the French language. Balfour speaks only a few words of French, and Mosh's own memories of the language seem motheaten and incomplete.
Well, no help for it. Slowly gathering his wits, Mosh strikes out in the world to accomplish his self-imposed mission: the systematic "breadboarding" and elimination of everyone responsible for putting him behind bars, from the arresting officers to the judge and jury, his own lawyer, the prosecuting attorney, and some twenty-odd witnesses who testified against him in one or another capacity. Plus families, friends, and neighbors, of course.
As his hunt begins, though, Mosh finds peculiar evidence piling up that someone has been here before him. In fact, many of the intended victims have already disappeared, and when Mosh goes out in search of more doses of the seepee containing his personality, he finds them scarce. Finally, when one of the missing victims turns up both impressively breadboarded and still -- if barely -- alive, Mosh realizes the obvious: that there are other copies of him running around. He begins to haunt some of his favorite places, in hopes of running into himself and getting some sort of coordinated action going.
Later, things get tougher as the cops wise up to what's going on, and the remaining targets move away or take other protective measures. Mosh descends into Acadia Nouvelle neighborhoods, using violence and charm to compensate for his lost fluency. He finally does meet up with another version of himself, who has been part of a small Mosh network but who warns that several other versions have already been arrested. The two agree that our Mosh, the viewpoint character, will go after New Orleans police detective Kaema LeClerc, while the other one hunts down a couple of juror families. The two also agree to perform surgery on one another to deactivate the livers of their hosts, so as to prolong the seepee overlay for as long as possible. Our Mosh, the "Mickey Balfour" Mosh, receives his operation in a motel room with only local anesthetic, and so is able to return the favor almost immediately. In the end, though, he can't help himself, and "breadboards" the other Mosh, expressing surprise that the other Mosh didn't first do it to him. They really are different, aren't they? Which of them is more real? Some discussion follows about how it feels to be breadboarded.
That night, Mosh strangles one person and breadboards another, as much out of frustration as anything else. He's not making enough progress! He'll wash out of Balfour's body soon, liver or no liver! Unfortunately, he was never very good at patience or long-range planning, and God knows Mickey Balfour wasn't, but those seem to be the skills required here. Feeling increasingly ill from the effects of liver failure, he writes some cryptic graffiti on the walls for his other selves to read and understand, and manages to make telephone contact with one other copy of himself. Speaking in innocent and highly circuitous terms (lest someone overhear) they arrange to track down Kaema LeClerk -- both their most obvious threat and their sweetest revenge -- in the morning and to spend the day in constant contact, following her around until presented with an opportunity to nab her.
After a long, frustrating day, things start to look up later in the afternoon when LeClerk and that white guy she's been hanging around with hustle off together to meet some black guy downtown. With the aid of Mosh/Jones, Mosh/Balfour keeps up with the car, and hides in the deepening shadows as LeClerk tries to force the black guy into her car.
Thread Two: Aub Weyland's Story
(interlaced with occasional POV from Kaema LeClerk)
On an early November afternoon, Aub is called suddenly from Washington D.C. to New Orleans, Louisiana, to investigate a suspected outbreak of pathological seepee, codename Bad Medicine. On the flight in, he examines the alien look of mid-21st century New Orleans from the air, and upon landing, is struck hard by the heat and humidity of the place, even here in the middle of fall. He is ferried to speak with the city's chief of police and its FBI Special Agent in Charge (SAC), and then assigned to head a task force with police detective Kaema LeClerc, who got (and deserved) most of the credit for capturing Mosh Gribblin the first time around. Darkly, Aub warns a skeptical SAC that the Louisiana National Guard be placed on standby in case things get out of hand.
The next day Aub and Kae visit the prison where Gribblin was being held, and in whose infirmary the prison doctor was recently murdered, though not breadboarded. Aub finds evidence of seepee extraction equipment. The two then proceed to the morgue, where Aub performs specialized chemical assays on Mosh's body to confirm that he has, in fact, seepeed up. The two then lay out a plan, which unfortunately consists mainly of assigning protection to the surviving victims (including Kae's own family) and waiting to see what happens. Kae also identifies Gribblin's known associates, and his haunts, one of which is a bar which the two of them visit at the end of the very long, very hot working day. If Mosh Gribblin is there, they don't spot him. Uncomfortable realization: he could be anywhere, or everywhere -- they have no idea what his hosts might look like.
On the morning of Aub's second full day in New Orleans, Kae recommends that they visit with "Xerox" Zeke Duchamp. Some discussion of skip addiction ensues. When the meeting actually takes place, Kae is stunned by Zeke's condition -- today he is "motion blind" -- and she is also surprised by his insistence on being called "Rainbow." There is more discussion, this time of Rainbow's quest for self-discovery. However, when pressed to "keep his ears open" for news on the Gribblin case, Zeke readily agrees. "Provided I still have use of my ears tomorrow. I was deaf one day last week, and didn't even know it. Didn't even know there was such a thing as hearing."
Later, they travel to a fresh murder scene, and inspect a freshly deceased, breadboarded body. Face and fingerprint lookups reveal it to be one of the city's many drug addicts. The two assign human and software agents the task of compiling a gallery of those who've been arrested on drug-related charges, referred to drug rehab programs, etc., especially those involving seepee. There may only be a few hundred faces, after all, and memorizing these could help them recognize a Gribblin host when they see one. (Sense of frustration: this tactic was planned from the beginning, but there are simply too many things to be done to "start" this investigation, and meanwhile the city is being terrorized by dozens of Mosh Gribblins!) That night, they never do get to go off shift, because new "breadboard" murders are occurring at least hourly and there are so many damned crime scenes to visit... They make damned sure the rest of their staff aren't sleeping either, but are busily pursuing their investigations.
In the morning, a fierce crackdown on the seepee trade -- involving fully thirty percent of the city's law enforcement personnel -- quickly nets five dealers and over sixty doses of the drug. It's difficult to tell for sure which of these contain Gribblin's coded memories, but circumstantially it seems than most of them must. A few are retained for analysis and the rest are promptly sent off for destruction. Unfortunately, there are still at least a hundred doses of Gribblin unaccounted for, each of which will last for two or three days in the body of an addict. I.e., the city still has possibly as many as 10,000 Gribblin-hours left to endure, whether as a hundred Gribblins simultaneously for three days, or ten of them for a month, or else sporadic individual appearances for the next dozen years... Having felt the effects of just one night of the Gribblin treatment, Aub and Kae and everyone else are finally in a position to see just how bad a situation this really is. At Aub's insistence, the city applies for federal disaster relief, and the Louisiana National Guard -- who've been on skeptical standby for days -- are mobilized to place the city under martial law.
Meanwhile, the completed "rougue's gallery" is circulated to all corners of the city, and any and all of the individuals appearing on it are to be reported to authorities on sight. Not that people are supposed to be out on the streets anyway... Another five murders occur during the daylight hours, and Aub declares that they can't keep investigating every scene; they have a greater responsibility, he reasons, to stick pins in maps and perform other "big picture" activities, while rank-and-file police officers round up seepee addicts "for questioning." (Sideline issue: how will these cases be prosecuted, given that the "real" perpetrator is deceased?) But as the afternoon wanes, Kae gets a call from an apparently quite distressed Rainbow, who insists he has to see her right away, and she is able to persuade Aub to accompany her.
Thread Three: Rainbow's Story
Rainbow awakens one morning, feeling strange, feeling that the colors around him all look wrong: the whites dirty, the blacks textured somehow, with the shades of gray in between them looking ambiguous, mutable, alien. All around him are sharp lines and dull surfaces. He goes through his morning routine and then takes a bus to work, marveling all the while at his inability to put a finger on just what is wrong. He mops floors, helps move and clean up patients... Only when he's asked to check a monitor for red/green/yellow cues does he realize that he not only can't see color, but that he's not completely clear on just what color is. Even the word "Rainbow" seems mysterious. He is suffering from "achromatopsia," a syndrome caused by damage to the V4 region of the visual cortex or, in Rainbow's case, by the inhibition of that region by a custom neural suppressant. This is his ninth such experiment, and by far the most interesting: he experiences the wavelengths of light directly, without the symbolic mediation of "color" imposed by V4 -- a sensation well outside the normal human experience. This is exactly the sort of "mental spectrum absorption line" Rainbow has been seeking, to help distinguish external sensations from his own interior sense of self, and he finishes out the day in a state of childlike joy and discovery.
The next day, though, he's relieved to find he has his colors back, and recalls the previous day's experiences with a shudder of horror. Not color blindness, no, but something much more complex and disturbing, like a parallel universe with slightly different physical laws. Today, everything seems blissfully normal. That is, until he steps outside: there he finds that while he can see things like people and cars with perfect clarity, there's an alarming, herky-jerky quality to them. He looks one way, captures the view in his mind, looks another way... and then looks back again, to find the previous view profoundly changed, its objects in radically different positions. It's as if the whole world is sneaking up on him, and then vanishing into a sort of camoflaged stillness when he turns to look. Severely disoriented, he experiences an attack of grave doubt about his "Rainbow" plan. Finally, though, he learns to blink his eyes in a way that lets him navigate to a bus stop and thence to work.
Once there, he finds enough things "normal" that he can more or less function, albeit in a fog of hair-trigger paranoia. In this state, he is approached by Aub Weyland and Kae LeClerk. Kae is visibly and vocally alarmed by his condition, and his insistence on being called "Rainbow." Eventually, though, he manages to placate her, explain something of his motivations, and finally ask why the two have come. Together, Aub and Kae explain the Gribblin/seepee situation, and Rainbow, who recalls the terror and savagery of Gribblin's first rampage, and who has heard the reports of a possible "copycat" on the loose, agrees to help. Particularly since they're offering ten thousand dollars, much more than he's ever made as an informant.
He places a few discrete telephone calls, to friends from the skip circuit he feels he can trust, and that evening, rather than going home, braves the dangers of his motion-blindness to visit The Walking Dead, a club frequented by skip addicts and dealers. Rumors are already flying -- people have heard about the new string of murders, and they're getting scared. Rainbow discreetly asks around about seepee, finding out who might be using it, where one might go about obtaining it. At first he encounters resistance -- people know about his political connections, about his habit of freelancing for police and private detectives -- but when he begins dropping hints that there might be a "killer" seepee out there, one potentially as dangerous to users and bystanders as the dreaded andromalin, he's rewarded with a couple of names, which he forwards to Kae LeClerk in a voice mail message.
On his way home, disoriented by motion-blindness, he accidentally wanders into an Acadia Nouvelle neighborhood. Asking directions in halting French, he's set upon and beaten by a gang of toughs. Crawling away, he passes an alley in which a breadboarded body hangs crucified, steam still rising from its entrails. While lying at the body's feet, he hears a gasp, watches the fingers open, and sees a foil packet appear on the cobblestones in front of him. He shudders to realize that the body had still been alive, that it has only just died. He dials Kae on his cell phone, telling her about the body, and then about the beating. After hanging up, he picks up the foil packet: a dose of seepee. Mosh Gribblin? He pockets the item, intending to deliver it to Kae and Aubrey in the morning. Haltingly, agonizingly, he finds his way home, but not before taking his nearly-forgotten evening dose of skip, just in time to avoid the erasure of his memory.
Here, there's an interlude in which Rainbow, or more properly Zeke, reflects on the events leading up to his skip addiction, and on how strange -- indeed how incomprehensible -- his current life would seem to that pre-skip person he once was. And how tragic, that sooner or later he would miss a dose, and would go back to being that naive, shallow individual again.
In the morning, Rainbow tends his injuries, discovers that his motion sense has returned, but that he's suffering from "visual agnosia," an inability to identify objects by sight, even after examining them closely. He wishes now that he could turn the "Rainbow" process off, but he's programmed it tightly into the drug synthesizer that produces his skip, and built in a number of safeguards to discourage himself from casual tampering. He could shut it off, but it would take all day. Gradually, he finds he can use a combination of logic, common sense, and smell/hearing/touch/etc., to deduce the identities or functions of various items, and larger objects such as buildings and buses don't seem nearly as confusing. He decides to go to work.
On arrival at the hospital, he finds people in a state of near-panic; no fewer than eleven "breadboard" murders occurred last night, the morgues are overflowing, and the whole building is crawling with cops, reporters, and people being treated for injury or traumatic stress. Agnosia renders his job more difficult than ever -- he can regonize neither faces nor the everyday implements of his work -- and he's frequently disrupted by cell-phone calls from people on the skip circuit, who feel entitled to information -- they often do the same for him, after all. Some few do provide names or other leads, which he passes along to a harried Kaema LeClerk. After work, in a state of confusion, he accidentally applies the dose of seepee he's carrying, believing it to be skip.
Gradually, Mosh Gribblin comes awake inside him. As a rule, seepee addicts have a fairly weak sense of identity which is easily overpowered by the overlay. "Rainbow" Zeke Duchamp, though, is anything but weak, and his views are diametrically opposed to Mosh's on virtually every subject. Neither individual has any clear idea what is happening to him, either, and so is unprepared to mount any spirited defense. Thus, the blending of their two personalities is anything but smooth, and the resulting composite individual -- still suffering from severe agnosia -- is hard-pressed to formulate any action at all. One thing Mosh and Rainbow can agree on, though, is that they're tired and angry, and need to see Kaema LeClerk right away. They call her, and arrange a meeting.
Thread Four: Distant Observer
"Bill," a rich man distantly related to Aubrey Weyland, pops up a couple of times for short segments, in which he watches the doings in New Orleans through the distorting/clarifying lens of CNN. He's interested, feeling some sense of personal connection to the disaster. He has often wondered what it would be like to kill someone, or to hunt for someone who has killed.
(POV shifts between Mosh, Aub, Kae and Rainbow)
Aub and Kae show up for their meeting with Rainbow. Kae, finding Rainbow in a severely disoriented state, attempts to shoo him into her car. Mosh/Rainbow is too confused to put up much resistance, but the process is interrupted by the arrival of Mosh Gribblin, in the body of Mickey Balfour.
Mosh engages in a little obscure gloating, giving Kae a chance to realize who/what he is. A scuffle ensues in which Aub -- hopefully to the reader's surprise -- is killed, and Kae is caught and restrained. Mosh finds a drug patch in Kae's purse and, just for the hell of it, applies it to her skin to see what will happen. Kae breaks free, though, and after briefly attempting to rouse Zeke -- in whom Mosh seems to take zero interest -- she flees for her life, pursued through the streets by Mosh/Balfour and Mosh/Jones. Here her running skills are put to good use; Mosh/Jones is riding a bicycle and Mosh/Balfour is driving a (very small) electric car, but Kae is able to elude them for miles. She's lost her phone and weapons, there are no pay phones anymore, and the curfew has whole neighborhoods sealed up like ghost towns, so finding help is difficult. Too, the effects of the drug, "Spirit World," have kicked in, suffusing the entire landscape with ghosts and saints and a general sense of spiritual significance. But she finally runs across a police patrol car, whose occupants Mosh/Balfour promptly kills.
Another scuffle ensues, and Kae manages to kill one astonished Gribblin before the other runs her down. Exiting from the electric vehicle, the body of Mickey Balfour leers down at her, brandishing a scalpel. A figure comes running toward them on the street, though, howling obscenities and cryptic phrases in French and English. Mosh Gribblin realizes it's another copy of himself, and Kae realizes it's Rainbow Zeke Duchamp, and enough confusion results that Kae, despite her injuries, is able to trip Balfour and bind him with high-tech hand and foot cuffs.
Then Mosh/Rainbow, in a state of severe agitation and agnosic confusion, picks up the scalpel and cuts Kae open -- or so he believes -- pulling her entrails out one by one, showing them to her and demanding, "What's this? What's this? What's this?" (In fact, he has slit open the struggling Mickey Balfour, while a puzzled Kae looks on in stunned silence.)
Later, Rainbow hunkers in an alley, pleased and horrified and hurting. He understand that he's forgotten his skip, that his memories and sense of identity are slipping away. For some reason the Mosh Gribblin part of him is the first to go, evaporating over a period of minutes, racing through desperate thoughts, desperate searches of memory and self, finally a little soliloquy that trails away uncompleted. Now Rainbow is left with with the memory of murder but no sense of why it happened. That, too, will be forgotten, though, along with everything that "Rainbow" is, and finally in his closing moments, he finds a sense of comfort in this.
At this point, Kae shows up, limping and scared, but quickly realizing that Mosh is gone and Rainbow is something close to himself again. But not for long. They talk briefly. The Mosh Gribblin experience has told him exactly what the sense of identity consists of: nothing. Peel away the clothing, the body, the quirky hardware of the brain, and you find no soul, only the chemical signatures of intermediate-term memory. Change those and you can change the entire person. He knows this now: the absorption spectrum of the mind is blank, a fat black line from one end to the other. His mission is complete.
Then he sits up, looks around, wonders what he was just feeling that sense of cold comfort about. "Xerox" Zeke Duchamp feels bruised all over, feels strangely heavy and beaten and tired. He took skip; he's taken a little jump into the future. But what's happened, why is he in a dark alley? Why is an old, heavy, battered-looking Kaema LeClerk here with him? He looks at his watch and sees the time, then the date, then the blood all over his hands and arms and clothing. Immediately understanding the gist of what has happened to him -- years lost, with some horrible disaster at the end -- he screams, and then falls weeping into Kae's arms.
Xerox Zeke Duchamp sits in The Walking Dead, nursing never-quite-healed injuries, nursing a drink, and flipping disspiritedly through the journal of his "skip" years, and a transcript of Kaema LeClerc's court testimony, with the passages referring to him all highlighted. He isn't quite the fool that "Rainbow" had imagined -- he understands that whatever changes he underwent during that time were his changes, his reactions, and therefore valid. He's curious -- very curious -- about that forgotten life, that forgotten self, and thinks the time may finally have come for him to look into the matter seriously.
At the same time, he realizes that some forms of knowledge can be damaging. Was "Rainbow" a happier person than he? It seems unlikely. Kae's life was certainly damaged by those experiences, and she professed a certain envy about his forgetting, before disappearing with her family to parts unknown. Is self-knowledge really that important? Is ignorance bliss? In a burst of something that's either willpower or shocking and uncharacteristic cowardice, he hands his papers over to a waitress, asking her to throw them away, and then follows up by propositioning her. She smiles, somewhere between tolerant and indulgent, and Zeke -- though sensing he's not going to get lucky tonight -- feels in that moment that it's his future changes that really matter. And that's an insight he can live with.
Seven men sit around a table, smoking cigars. It's made clear to the readers that these are all men of extreme power and wealth, men whose names and faces we'd all recognize immediately. "Bill" is here, and "Che," and "Idi's grandson Raoul," and they're all sitting casually, drinking congac and talking in low voices broken by occasional laughter. A casual observer might mistake the scene for a Friday-night poker game, but that isn't what's happening here. The men also jokingly refer to themselves as "The Secret Cabal That Runs the World," but that's not what's happening, either. These men know better than anyone how slippery-chaotic the world is, how utterly impervious to being "run" or even understood. But still, when you're a trillionaire you don't have many peers, many credible enemies, many risks left to take. It takes a very special sort of game, to really get the adrenaline flowing.
One by one, the men each lay an object on the table. First the "Star of Pretoria," a natural diamond of huge size and unimaginably fine cut, which had disappeared from a museum decades before. Next a set of Matisse paintings, irreverently rolled up inside a cardboard tube. Next a magnetic bottle filled with antiprotons, and then a backpack nuclear weapon, the brain and testicles of Albert Einstein, and a 51% interest of the Talia Natural Drug Cartel in Cayman Island bearer shares. The tabletop is now a vast display of portable -- but forbidden -- wealth, a concentration with street value equal to the lifetime earnings of thousands upon thousands of middle-class families. "Read 'em and weep," says "Bill," droping thirty-five doses of Mosh Gribblin C.P.O. onto the table. What criminal organization, bent on blackmail or revenge or simple psychological terrorism, wouldn't want to get their mits on those? Shut down the city of Marrakesh, maybe. Or Tokyo. A few dozen deaths, hardly a blip on the world stage, and yet the sheer monstrosity of it...
Even if the seepee is never sold or used, the simple fact that it could be, the simple fact that such a horror still exists in the world, is enough. Pure evil is a rare thing, a thing even trillionaires must respect, but each of these thirty packets contains it in concentrated form, a toxin for the soul, for anyone's soul: an innocent little boy, a shriveled old nun, the President of the United Nations... A hush falls over the other six men, and then, one by one, sobered and defeated, they push their own treasures toward "Bill." Son of a bitch always wins.
RANDOM OBSERVATIONS INCLUDED HERE SO I'LL REMEMBER TO PUT THEM IN THE BOOK:
"Language has a way of shrinking concepts down to manageable proportions, of reducing our inner sense of love or awe or horror. We'll say 'a child was born' or 'enemy troops overran our position,' and these become conversational tokens, on a par with 'I don't care for broccoli.' Well forget it: what's happening here is not something I'm going to put into words. I'm not going to build a wall around this concept so we can treat it calmly and feel good about ourselves. Complacency is the last thing we want to be feeling right now."
"Pain didn't really work the way most people seemed -- or wanted -- to think. There weren't too many things that hurt so much a person literally couldn't stand it, and even those few could be reduced by virtue of some simple tools and techniques. Inflicting pain wasn't something Mosh particularly got off on these days, and where possible, within reason, he tried to keep it to a minimum. He sometimes thought he'd have made a good vet."
"Aub had once received, in his office at Headquarters, a short email from the DOJ, seven blocks away. The "sent" date had been twelve days earlier than the "received" date. Twelve days! He sometimes wondered where the little note had gone during that time, and whether there were Lost Duchmen out there circling endlessly, chased by packet storms from every channel that might possibly lead them home. He hoped so -- hoped the world really was that romantic a place. The message's course could in fact be traced, he felt sure, and so he'd deleted it to prevent that from happening, to keep that particular quantum uncertainty from collapsing into sober truth."
I see this novel as a sort of alloy of numerous influences both inside and outside the genre of science fiction. Starting with the Golden Age SF Detective Story ambience of Bester's THE DEMOLISHED MAN and Asimov's THE CAVES OF STEEL, blended with the kaleidoscopic future history of Brunner's STAND ON ZANZIBAR or Sterling's HOLY FIRE, and some of the hard-edged, post-cyberpunk sensibility of Gibson's VIRTUAL LIGHT. Psychological influences include the street wisdom of Elmore Leonard, the heady abnormal psych of Oliver Sacks and Thomas Harris, and a smidgen of K.W. Jeter in DR. ADDER mode. The dominant influence is, of course, Wil McCarthy -- this novel draws upon numerous ideas and questions first raised in my short fiction, and in my novel MURDER IN THE SOLID STATE.
Despite initial appearances, BAD MEDICINE is not a serial killer novel or PULP FICTION-style glorification of violence and drug use. This book is, rather, an intensive science-fictional study of alien minds, and of the ranges and limits of human experience, with a plot that serves to show off as many facets of as many different mind-types as possible. As always, my intention is to wrap meaningful and relevant ideas into an engaging, fast-reading package that can hopefully be enjoyed on at least a couple of different levels.
Incidentally, though it's not strongly evident from the outline, this novel is both a sequel to MURDER IN THE SOLID STATE and a prequel to BLOOM. These works share no common characters, but fit into the same general timeline, with the events of BAD MEDICINE taking place approximately twenty years after those of MURDER IN THE SOLID STATE, and about fifty years before the birth of the Mycosystem.